"I think some of what happened between then and now is we decided to forget what civics are and allow politics to swallow everything."
He stressed the importance of distinguishing between politics – the "less important stuff we differ about" – and civics, the "stuff we're all supposed to agree on, regardless of our policy view differences."
"Civics is another way we talk about the rules of the road," Sasse said. "Civics 101 is the stuff like Congress writes laws, the executive branch enforces laws, courts apply them. None of that stuff should be different if you're a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian or a Green party member."
While the basics of civics provide the stable framework for the American constitutional system, politics is a term for the disagreements about specific policies and approaches within that framework, the senator said, pointing to differing views on finance committee bills as an example.
Recognizing the difference between civics and politics is important in the confirmation hearing of a Supreme Court justice, Sasse said, because it reminds Americans that a judge is not a "super legislator."
With a clear civics-based understanding of the role of judges, Sasse said, Americans should reject judicial activism, the idea that judges should advance policies to shape society through their decisions.
"This is the confused idea that the Supreme Court is just another arena for politics," the senator said.
Seeing the court through this lens of judicial activism, Sasse said, reduces the judiciary to progressive or conservative blocs rather than recognizing the fundamental and unique role they play in the American constitutional system.
"When politicians try to get judicial nominees to give their views on cases or to give their views on policies, to try to get them to pre-commit to certain outcomes in future court cases, we are politicizing the courts, and that is wrong," he said.
"When we have a nominee before us, we should be asking her questions that are not about trying to predetermine how certain cases will be judged," he added.